Can I Be Fired for Not Wearing a Mask at Work?

New York City Litigators Skilled in Employment Disputes

It is believed that masks and face coverings are critical to stopping the spread of COVID-19. New Yorkers are asked to wear a face covering at all times when away from their homes and around other people. Masks are supposed to be snug against the face and cover both the nose and the mouth. If you are concerned about whether you can be fired for not wearing a mask at work, you should discuss your situation with the experienced New York City wrongful termination lawyers at Phillips & Associates.

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Can I Be Fired for Not Wearing a Mask at Work?

Employment in New York is “at will," which means that your employer can terminate you for any reason as long as it does not violate the law. In other words, your employer can terminate you for not wearing a mask at work when mask wearing is a safety precaution against COVID-19.

Under New York state law, everyone over age two, who is medically able to wear a face covering, must do so when in public if they are not able to keep at least six feet of distance from others. A face covering must be worn at all times when riding public transportation to work.

You should wear a mask at work unless you can keep at least six feet of distance from others, including your coworkers and customers. Your employer should provide you with a mask for free. Additionally, your employer may require you to wear a mask even when six feet of distance can be maintained.

Your employer should not require a mask in the workplace for certain groups of workers but not others. For example, your employer may be racially discriminating under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the New York State Human Rights Law, and the New York City Human Rights Law if it requires Black and Latino workers to wear a mask, but it does not require a White workers to wear a mask.

Similarly, your employer could face claims of sex discrimination under federal, state, or local laws if it only requires masks to be worn by female workers but does not require them for male workers.

Religious Accommodations

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the New York State Human Rights Law, and the New York City Human Rights Law prohibit religious discrimination in the workplace. Title VII only applies to workplaces that have a minimum of 15 employees. Employers with any number of employees are subject to the state law regarding religious discrimination. Employers with at least four employees are subject to the city law regarding religious discrimination.

Religious discrimination can take many different forms. One form, however, is a denial of a reasonable accommodation so that an employee can practice his or her religion. Employers are required to accommodate religious beliefs unless doing so presents an undue hardship. Therefore, your employer may need to accommodate your unwillingness to wear a mask due to your religious beliefs, unless it can show that it is an undue hardship to allow you to forgo the mask. Your employer needs to engage in a bona fide effort to determine whether the accommodation (to not wear a mask) would be appropriate. An undue hardship refers to an accommodation that mandates significant expense or difficulty for the employer. There would also be an undue hardship if the accommodation regarding the mask leaves you unable to perform an essential function of your job.

Reasonable Accommodations for a Disability

If you have a medical problem that makes it difficult to tolerate a mask, you can raise that concern with your employer. You can ask for a reasonable accommodation for a medical problem that prohibits, or hinders, you ability to wear a mask. You should be able to get some type of accommodation, as long as this does not present an undue hardship to your employer. The accommodation may be working from home or working on a different shift in a separate space. Furthermore, you should not be harassed for being given a reasonable accommodation for your disability. Your coworkers should not harass you for not wearing a mask if your reason for not wearing a mask is due to a disability, and your employer granted you an accommodation.

Contact Our Employment Litigation Attorneys

If you were fired for not wearing a mask at work, and you believe that it was connected to having a protected characteristic, one of the experienced trial attorneys at Phillips & Associates may be able to represent you. We assist workers in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, Staten Island, the Bronx, and Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester Counties, as well as New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Florida. Call us at (866) 229-9441 or complete our online form.

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